Our favourite place to ride is the land of delicious beer, weird leather shorts and killer snowboarding – Austria.
Part of the thing that we love about Austria is that there is a respect for tradition that virtually oozes out of the fabric of the country, but it’s also fast becoming cosmopolitan and modern thanks to the people who welcome new ways of thinking. As a result, this trip would take in Schladming and Kitzbühel, two of the best known and longest established ski resorts in the world, before heading on to The Mothership – Capita Snowboards’ state of the art, zero carbon emission snowboard factory that opened last year in Feistritz an der Gail.
The trip was put together with the assistance of Q Parks, who build and maintain snowboard parks in resorts across Austria, who organised things for us in resort. We also took two of the UK’s finest Capita team riders along for the ride – Jack Labbett has come up rapidly, releasing a series of tech and inspiring video edits over the last couple of years that has seen him showing his dryslope skills better than almost anyone out there. Calum Paton is one of the UK’s best, but lesser-known riders. He’s been on the Capita team for years, yet full time education means that he’s been flying under the radar – but make no mistake, Calum one of the most technical riders the UK has. While we had intended to focus on park for the trip, the weather had other ideas and decided to dump almost solidly throughout. Never mind, park or pow, we were in for a treat!
Schladming is one of the biggest ski areas in Austria, but it’s not well known to UK snowboarders. Part of the Salzburgerland region – far less famous than the ever popular Tirol – Schladming is around an hour from Salzburg airport and is accessible by train from the city, which means it’s one of the easiest resorts in Austria to get to from the UK, especially by low cost airline. The resort is made up of four linked ski mountains: Planai is the main area, with the lifts climbing out of the middle of the old town. Hochwurzen is to the west with the small town of Rohrmoos at it’s base and is the home of the easiest slopes in the region, while to the east is the village of Haus and at the base of the biggest mountain in the area, Hauser Kaibling. The roads and railways coming into the town drop you right in the middle of things, but it’s spread out enough to not really feel as though it’s too busy. We stayed at the Aparthotel Ferienalm Schladming, a no nonsense hotel on the opposite side of the valley to the main areas and a twenty or so minute walk into the main town itself. There are bus stops outside, but plenty of parking in the hotel itself and more importantly good food and a bar, should you want to just chill after riding.
Schladming’s park is situated on the Planai mountain, and as we navigated the ski trails and lifts to get to it, we rode through the heavily wooded pistes that are fun to rip around, with a fast, modern lift system so you can zip around the mountain quickly. The park itself is located in a cleared wooded area around mid mountain and is served by a pair of fast double T-Bars, which means you can take laps quickly, even when it’s busy. The area is quite compact, so the park designers were faced with a problem – how could they maximise the stoke for all levels of riders, while maintaining a fun and challenging park? – and their solution is quite ingenious.
While the park is only seven or eight obstacles long, there is enough width for five sets of obstacles, so the more basic obstacles are on the left and they get progressively more difficult the further across to the right you move. This gives a clear level of difficulty that you can progress through – if you’re not particularly park savvy, or you’re just warming up, you make laps through the easier sections and then as you get more confident, you can move across a line or two to step up the challenge. While it may not lead to the most beautiful park layout ever, this approach keeps things practical, yet doesn’t split riders of different levels up unnecessarily so the groms can watch and get inspired by the pros, while still staying within their comfort zone. Jack and Calum are used to riding smaller indoor parks, but quickly got into the groove shredding lap after lap while filmer Carter and I tried to set up angles for shots. In between taking fun GoPro laps, the boys got involved with the monster stairset and the other bigger obstacles and we quickly started get clips and shots. Our schedule was tight so after just two days stacking footy on fun park laps, it was time to move on. We came off the hill, changed in the huge multi storey car park that is right next to the gondola and got straight on the road to Kitzbühel, the second stop of our trip.
The roads through the country tend to stick to the valleys, which means you almost always have a spectacular mountain view on at least one side of the car. Our route took us across country and mountain passes, past ancient mining towns, ski resorts and outposts of industry. Austria is a country heavily reliant on it’s terrain for it’s income – from tourism to farming, to forestry and beyond, and is still connected to it’s land in a way that perhaps the UK is not. A few hours later we were driving over Pass Thurn and the hills we would ride the next day, before arriving in Kitzbühel itself.
If you could visualise the classic Austrian ski resort, Kitzbühel would be it – it’s possibly the most famous ski resort in the world, thanks to it’s swanky, pedestrianised town centre and the annual spectacle that is the Hahnenkahm World Cup Ski Downhill, when it seems that most of Austria come to town, waving red and white flags and clanging away with cow bells. What’s maybe surprising is that Kitzbühel is a low altitude resort by any standard – the town is at just 765m, while the highest point, the Kitzbühelerhorn doesn’t even break the 2000m mark, climbing to just 1996m. Having said that, it’s big – when combined with the neighbouring town of Kirchberg and the mountain pass ski area of Pass Thurn, the region makes up one of the biggest ski areas in the country, with approximately 10,0000 beds, 56 lifts and 168km of piste. The snowfall is good for such a low altitude resort and even better for us it was dumping as we arrived and didn’t let up the whole time we were there.
We stayed at Gasthof Möllinger a classic, family-owned Austrian pension, long on welcome and hearty food and short on unnecessary frivolity, complete with heavy use of wood panelling and hunting and sporting trophies – it was perfect for us and we were up bright and early the following morning. While our brief called for park riding, the conditions suggested we’d be riding powder – and that was fine with us! Heavy snow overnight had dumped maybe 20cms even at the lower levels, which meant that everywhere was blanketed in a layer of fun and we made the decision that due to low light and falling snow we’d ditch the big cameras and just ride.
There was almost no one on the hill, despite it being March and with so much snow, we just rode endless powder laps. It was seriously epic – not so much in the ‘all time big mountain freeride’ way, but we got to shred around the whole resort, dropping cat tracks, taking tree runs, ducking ropes and basically sending rooster tails wherever we went. We parked at the bottom of the main gondola, so we just stopped by every now and then for some snacks, a drink, or to pick up a camera for a lap, before ditching it all again and just riding. As the day wore on and the temperatures rose a little, we explored further out and even ended up adventure boarding after dropping too low through the trees meaning a long and muddy walk out. No matter, we ended our day tired, wet but stoked beyond belief…
The following day we decided that we should check out the Kitzbühel park, but the falling snow had hampered shaping efforts and to be honest, the powder was calling and so after a few runs we headed back to the trees, but not before a fortunate break in the weather meant Calum smashed a belter of a backside air over a monster hip in the park (just after Jack had almost broken himself in two by overshooting the landing). The remedy for the situation was more pow. These are the days that snowboarding are made for – just pure fun and exhilaration, taking laps, high fives and smiles.
Our tight schedule meant we had just two days in Kitzbühel as well, so all too soon it was time to move on. It was time to head to The Mothership and on the way excitement levels quickly climbed. While many companies are moving their production East, Capita have stated their commitment to European manufacture and built a brand new factory that builds snowboards not just for Capita and Spring Break, but many other brands that are ‘Made in Austria’. It’s not often that get to see a snowboard being built first hand and basically never that you get to see it at the world’s most advanced, carbon neutral factory, so we were in for a real treat.
We stayed the night at the Post Hotel in Feistritz an der Gail and were up bright and early for an 8am start at the factory itself. Although it’s brand new and state of the art, The Mothership also blends into it’s surroundings well thanks to the recycled wood cladding on the exterior. Well, it almost blends in, there’s just the small matter of a huge neon red Capita sign that stands proudly on the edge of the building, announcing to the world that this is Capita’s manufacturing home. When they built The Mothership, Capita offered jobs to the workers at their previous factory and many took them up, moving their families to a new town, while residents of Feistritz an der Gail also make up a large number of the workforce and the civic pride in the factory is plain to see. We spent a few hours at The Mothership, touring the departments and seeing how what basically starts as a pile of wood and plastic gets turned into a snowboard – a machine built for fun and freedom. It was rad and we all briefly considered alternate lives, of living in Austria and working there…
All that remained of our trip was a final rip around The Mothership’s private piste, a single run ski hill built behind the factory where product testing goes down and the workers can shred in their spare time. The perfect end to an amazing trip…
If you’re looking for parks, then Schladming and Kitzbühel are both great options – they’re easy to get to, well priced to stay at and they both have a ton of natural terrain. And if you’re lucky enough to get there when it’s puking, you’ll be loving life even more.
Accommodation: Aparthotel Ferienalm Schladming
Tel: +43 3687 23517
Accommodation: Gasthof Möllinger.
Tel: +43 680 326 19 56